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Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Nick Ayers, who was widely speculated to be the next White House chief of staff, will not be stepping into John Kelly's role, ABC News has confirmed.

Instead, Vice President Mike Pence's 35-year-old chief of staff will go to a pro-Trump super PAC.

Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House. I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause. 🇺🇸 #Georgia

— Nick Ayers (@nick_ayers) December 9, 2018

 
The president, who announced Kelly's departure Saturday, will make a decision on a new chief of staff by the end of the year.

A senior White House source said Ayers has been clear for weeks that he was planning on moving his young family back to Georgia in December, and a time frame on being chief of staff had been a part of his discussions with the president.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump tweeted Friday that new filings in federal investigations into Russian interference and campaign finance crimes in the 2016 election "totally" cleared him. But Chris Christie said, on This Week, that the president is "not totally clear."

"My view would be that you're not totally clear -- nor is anyone -- until Bob Mueller shuts down his office and hands in the keys,” the ABC News contributor, former New Jersey governor and U.S. attorney told This Week Co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

Special counsel Robert Mueller recently reached a plea agreement with Trump's former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, in which he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in exchange for cooperation with the investigation. In addition to new filings by Mueller in the Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort cases on Friday, the Southern District of New York recommended that Cohen be sentenced to a "substantial prison term" for his campaign finance violations.

Friday's sentencing memo by the Southern District of New York for the first time publicly leveled the accusation that Cohen acted "in coordination with and at the direction of" Trump.

The president tweeted on Friday in response to the filings that the new information "totally clears" him, though the court documents say otherwise. Federal prosecutors in New York have implicated Trump in a scheme to silence women who alleged that they had extramarital affairs with him before he became president, ABC News reported.

Christie said that while he's always thought that the "Michael Cohen situation was much more perilous for the White House than was Bob Mueller," the Mueller investigation remains a threat to Trump.

He added that "There's no way you can make this shorter but there’s lots of ways you can make it longer, and one of the ways to do that is to say you’re in the clear when the prosecutor still has subpoena authority."

Christie -- who ran for president unsuccessfully in 2016, endorsed Trump and later briefly served as the head of the Trump transition team -- said the new filing sounds "very definitive," and that the U.S. attorney investigating Cohen’s campaign finance crimes must have solid corroboration, given Cohen's lack of credibility.

Cohen will be sentenced in New York this week for the campaign finance felonies. Mueller's office recommended that Cohen be able to serve his sentence for lying to Congress concurrently with the campaign finance sentence.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the publicly available facts from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe indicate that President Donald Trump’s actions are “beyond the stage” of what led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.

On This Week Sunday, Murphy left the question of whether to move to impeach the president to the House and cautioned against drawing too many conclusions without all the facts of the investigation, but told This Week Co-anchor Martha Raddatz that Mueller’s investigation has reached a “new level.”

“I think you are beyond the stage that led to the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, whether or not you think that that was worthy of impeachment,” Murphy said.

Murphy compared Trump’s status in the investigation -- with the special counsel linking the president to illegal activity -- to that of former President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

“The president has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning the office. President Nixon was an unindicted co-conspirator. Was certainly a different set of facts, but this investigation is now starting to put the president in serious legal crosshairs, and he should be worried and the whole country should be worried,” Murphy said.

Murphy was responding to the most recent revelations from the special counsel’s investigation, including multiple filings documenting criminal activity committed by the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and former campaign chair, Paul Manafort.

Cohen’s filing from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York indicated that Trump, named in the filing as “Individual-1,” directed Cohen to make hush-money payments before the 2016 election to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal to silence them and keep their allegations of extramarital affairs with Trump private.

The special counsel alleges that Manafort, meanwhile, lied on multiple occasions to prosecutors about the extent of his contact with a Russian national during the 2016 campaign and with Trump administration officials in 2018.

While sources tell ABC News that Mueller is in the process of writing his final report, there are questions about when the final report will be made public.

“I would also counsel the special investigator to show his cards soon," Murphy said. "I mean, I think it's important for the special investigator to give Congress what he has sometime early in 2019 so that Congress can make a determination. If the president did, in fact, collude with the Russians to try to manipulate the election or engage in multiple felonies with Michael Cohen, it doesn't really make sense for Congress to get that report from the special investigator in 2020. We need that next year. We need that as soon as possible."

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Zach Gibson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said repeatedly that President Donald Trump pardoning former campaign chairman Paul Manafort would be a “terrible mistake,” and that doing so could possibly “trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended.”

“I think that would be a terrible mistake" if Trump pardoned Manafort, Rubio said on This Week Sunday. “I really do. I believe it'd be a terrible mistake. Pardons should be used judiciously. They're used for cases with extraordinary circumstances.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Manafort of lying about his contacts with administration officials in 2018 and at least four other details related to his probe of Russian election meddling during the 2016 campaign.

As ABC News confirmed, Manafort’s legal team had been sharing information about his interactions with the special counsel with the president’s legal team -- a story that was first reported by The New York Times.

This reignited speculation that Manafort could be angling for a pardon from Trump.

Trump last week told the New York Post that though a pardon for Manafort had never been discussed, he “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

“I don't believe that any pardons should be used with relation to these particular cases, frankly,” Rubio told This Week Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz. “Not only does it not pass the smell test, I just think it undermines the reason why we have presidential pardons in the first place. And I think, in fact, that if something like that were to happen, it could trigger a debate about whether the pardon powers should be amended given these circumstances, so I hope that they don't do that. It would be a terrible mistake if they did.”

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images(MANCHESTER, N.H.) -- Sen. Cory Booker hasn't made a decision yet on whether he'll run for president in 2020, but he said in New Hampshire on Saturday that he'll make a verdict in about a month.

Booker, D-N.J., was in the country's first primary state on Saturday for a number of events. He was the key speaker at the state's Democratic post-midterm celebration in a crowded auditorium at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester. He was also guest of honor at a house party in Nashua hosted by former state Sen. Bette Lasky -- alongside Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess and state Sen. Cindy Rosenwald.

He was in a spirited mood at both, but talked little about his presidential ambitions. He was more candid about his plans Saturday morning.

"During the holidays, I'm gonna sit down and take a lot of stock about what I want to do next -- whether I want to run for president or stay in the Senate and help this continued movement in our country to reinvigorate our democracy," Booker told Manchester ABC affiliate WMUR-TV in a one-on-one interview.

That he's considering a run for the top of the ticket is hardly a surprise. He's been testing the waters in both Iowa -- the first caucus state -- and New Hampshire for months. Booker was in Iowa on Oct. 6, exactly one month before the midterm elections.

There, he railed against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after grabbing national headlines during the confirmation hearings.

On Saturday, Booker echoed the last Democratic president speaking about "hope."

"The definition of hope isn't that you see some light at the end of the tunnel, or something on the horizon that gives you hope. Hope is generated from within," he told the overflow crowd in Manchester.

In Nashua, Booker spoke at length about his own personal story growing up in New Jersey split between inner-city Newark and suburban Upper Saddle River, and the issues facing New Hampshire, including the opioid crisis. New Hampshire has the second-highest number of overdose deaths in the nation: 35.8 people per 100,000 in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"This incredible city is struggling with opioid addiction, struggling with mental health issues," Booker said, referring to Nashua. "They're struggling with what my region is struggling with."

The house party also drew a large number of people in the very same place Barack Obama held a similar event in 2007 when he was a senator.

"We've never seen it as packed as this, and we've hosted quite a number of political people here," Elliot Lasky, an optometrist in Nashua who attended the party, told WMUR-TV.

Booker will spend a second day in the state on Sunday in Keene.

The senator is part of a crowded field of potential Democratic contenders -- though none have thrown their hats in the ring officially. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are among some of the top contenders to take on Donald Trump in 2020.

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ABC News(PHILADELPHIA) --  President Trump conducted the coin toss at the 119th Army-Navy game on Saturday, one of the oldest rivalries in college football.

Navy correctly called tails, winning the toss.

The president was joined by Sec. of Defense James Mattis on the field for the national anthem and coin toss. He shook hands with teach team's captains and sat on the Navy side to start the game.

Later, the president switched sides of the field to show his impartiality.

It was the president's first visit to the game as commander-in-chief, though he had visited as president-elect in 2016 and made an appearance on CBS Sports.

Since the storied match-up between the Black Knights and Midshipmen began in 1890, 10 sitting presidents have attended including President Barack Obama in 2011.

Before the coin toss, the stadium joined in a moment of silence for the late President George H.W. Bush, a former Navy aviator.

Joining President Trump and Sec. of Defense Mattis at the game were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Dunford and his replacement, Gen. Mark Milley, Sec. of State Pompeo, Sec of Interior Zinke, Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma.

Army won the game 17-10, their third consecutive win over Navy. With the victory, Army retained the "Commander in Chief" trophy, which is awarded to the three-way series between Army, Navy and the Air Force Academy.

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Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Federal prosecutors have implicated Donald Trump in a scheme to silence women who alleged during the 2016 campaign that they had extramarital affairs with him before he became president, according to court documents.

In court filings submitted Friday afternoon by federal prosecutors in New York, the government alleged that President Trump, at the time a candidate, directed his longtime personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, to make payments in an effort to silence adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal.

Cohen had leveled this accusation against the president during his plea hearing in New York in August, saying then-candidate Trump directed the hush money deals that were made in the closing weeks of the 2016 election. Cohen told the court he acted “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to then-candidate Trump.

But Friday’s sentencing memo by the Southern District of New York marked the first time federal prosecutors sought to directly connect the president to those campaign finance violations, writing that Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump.

“While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” prosecutors in New York wrote Friday. “He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1,” referring to President Trump.

“In the process,” prosecutors continued, “Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”

Cohen pleaded guilty last August to two counts of campaign-related violations, as well as several felony charges of making false statements to a bank and tax evasion.

Last week, Cohen reached a deal with special prosecutors looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election to plead guilty to making misstatements to Congress.

Allegations laid out in Cohen’s sentencing documents in that case Friday provide only a narrow window into the special counsel probe, which has largely been conducted in secret over the past 18 months. It remains unclear whether prosecutors are examining President Trump’s conduct beyond the possible campaign finance violations described in the New York case.

On Twitter Friday, President Trump suggested he was exonerated by Friday’s court filings, writing: “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”

He referred to the investigation again Saturday, this time saying, "AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!"

But the documents filed in New York Friday night tell a different story, appearing for the first time to implicate Trump directly in a potentially criminal act. Federal election laws require proof that violations were committed knowingly and willfully.

It's clear the New York prosecutors believe Cohen had the requisite knowledge of the law, but the court documents are silent on whether Trump knew at the time that such payments were possibly illegal.

“With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election,” prosecutors wrote. “Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.”

“In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” according to New York prosecutors, again referring to Trump.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, responded to Trump’s declaration of exoneration on Twitter, writing, “Presumably, this is a response to the Cohen filing. Of course, the complete opposite is true. @SDNY says @realdonaldtrump directed Cohen to commit a felony.”

Nadler is expected to oversee the committee when Democrats take control of the House in January and gain subpoena power. It plans to examine the president's role in the hush money payments, a House Judiciary Committee aide told ABC News last month.

In his own sentencing memo filed last week, Cohen asked the judge to spare him a prison term, contending that his extensive cooperation in multiple investigations and the “gargantuan cost” he said he has already endured because of the criminal investigation warrant leniency.

“This case has caused deep and lasting strain for Michael and his family,” Cohen’s attorneys wrote. “They have been subjected to daily public scrutiny and moral opprobrium in a media cauldron of exceptional heat and intensity.”

While the special counsel in Washington acknowledged Cohen's help with the Russian investigation, the New York prosecutors said Cohen’s cooperation was modest and incomplete -- paling in comparison to the crimes to which he pleaded guilty.

“Now [Cohen] seeks extraordinary leniency -- a sentence of no jail time,” they wrote Friday. “But the crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life ... these were knowing and calculated acts -- acts Cohen executed in order to profit personally, build his own power, and enhance his level of influence.”

The combined statutory maximum penalty for those crimes is up to 65 years in prison, though the parties agreed that sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of between 46 and 63 months, before any post-conviction cooperation was factored into the recommendation.

A federal judge in New York is scheduled to sentence Cohen next week

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Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump announced on Saturday that his chief of staff, John Kelly, will leave at the end of the year.

A replacement will be named, possibly on an interim basis, Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for the Army-Navy football game.

"John Kelly will be leaving, I don’t know if I can say retiring. But he’s a great guy," Trump said, adding he would announce Kelly's replacement "over the next day or two."

The leading candidate to take over would be Nick Ayers, who currently serves as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, sources told ABC News.

The president, who has fired some of his closest advisors with a tweet, gave Kelly a more graceful exit with his South Lawn announcement, noting that Kelly has been with him in two different roles: DHS Secretary and Chief of Staff.

"I appreciate his service very much," Trump said.

Kelly’s departure, long-rumored around Washington, represents yet another dramatic shift in power dynamics and management style inside a notoriously tumultuous West Wing.

Just a few months ago, Trump had asked Kelly to stay on as chief of staff through his 2020 re-election campaign, and Kelly accepted, several White House officials confirmed to ABC News.

At a separate meeting with Cabinet-level communications staff at the time, a senior administration official said Kelly voiced his intention to stay on in the role for far longer -- through 2024 -- should the president be elected to a second term.

But the president, increasingly exerting direct control of West Wing operations, has marginalized Kelly's role and influence. Kelly has also chafed at the president's private disparagement of one of his closest allies and confidantes, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Ayers, 35, is seen by Trump and his closest allies as a loyalist and prominent advocate for the administration’s policies and political efforts. And Ayers’ role as the right-hand man to Pence over the past year has put him in close proximity to some of the moments of the Trump presidency.

Kelly departs after 17 months on the job. He was appointed by Trump to replace Reince Priebus in July 2017 in an effort to impose order, discipline and workflow on a chaotic inner circle that had grown unwieldy.

While Kelly was lauded for streamlining operations, the president and some of his long-time aides have chafed at the restrictions Kelly imposed, including limits to Oval Office access, a crackdown on temporary security clearances and ban on personal cell phone use in the West Wing, sources told ABC News.

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Gen. Mark Milley (Photo Credit: Department of Defense)(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has announced the nomination of Army Gen. Mark A. Milley to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As the country's top-ranking military official, Milley would succeed current Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who entered the role in October of 2015 under the Obama administration and is expected to serve until September.

Dunford has not publicly announced he is leaving his post.

The president announced the nomination on Twitter Saturday.

I am pleased to announce my nomination of four-star General Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the United States Army – as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing General Joe Dunford, who will be retiring....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018

President Barack Obama, during his time in office, announced his nominations for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff five months before they took the role. The predecessors never stepped down and were serving out their full terms.

Departing the White House on Friday, Trump teased an announcement related to the Joint Chiefs that he said would be made at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Saturday.

"I have another one for tomorrow that I’m going to be announcing at the Army-Navy game," he told reporters. "I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession."

The change comes as Trump is also likely to replace chief of staff, John Kelly, in the coming days, senior sources told ABC News.

Milley is currently the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army, assuming duty in August 2015 after serving as the Commandant of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Most recently, the general accompanied Trump to the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial in France this November to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I.

The Winchester, Massachusetts native received his commission from Princeton University in 1980 and later received Master's Degrees from Columbia University and the U.S. Naval War College.

His numerous overseas deployments include one tour in Iraq and three tours in Afghanistan – once as the Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Forces Afghanistan. He has also commanded the Army's 10th Mountain Division and served as a Military Assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Milley stepped into the role as Army Chief of Staff at a time when the U.S. was ending over a decade of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and re-aligning the military to focus more on near-peer competitors like China and Russia.

As chief, he oversaw the creation of the Army's Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) in Afghanistan, designed to reduce the strain on special forces. He also managed the establishment of Army Futures Command, which consolidated the Army's modernization process. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference about the new command, Milley said, "We're in the midst of a change in the very character of war."

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President Donald Trump is expected to name Army Gen. Mark A. Milley to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to senior administration officials.

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As the country's top-ranking military official, Milley would replace current Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who entered the role in October of 2015 under the Obama administration and is expected to serve until September of next year.

Dunford has not publicly announced he is leaving his post.

President Barack Obama, during his time in office, announced his nominations for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff five months before they took the role. The predecessors never stepped down and were serving out their full terms.

 

PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley during a Rose Garden, May 1, 2018, at the White House in Washington.Alex Wong/Getty Images
President Donald Trump shakes hands with U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley during a Rose Garden, May 1, 2018, at the White House in Washington.more

 

Departing the White House on Friday, Trump teased an announcement related to the Joint Chiefs that he said would be made at the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia on Saturday.

 

PHOTO: President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House for a trip to Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 7, 2018.Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House for a trip to Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 7, 2018.more

 

"I have another one for tomorrow that I’m going to be announcing at the Army-Navy game," he told reporters. "I can give you a little hint: It will have to do with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and succession."

The change comes as Trump is also likely to replace chief of staff, John Kelly, in the coming days, senior sources told ABC News.

 

 

Milley is currently the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army, assuming duty in August 2015 after serving as the Commandant of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Most recently, the general accompanied Trump to the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial in France this November to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I.

 

PHOTO: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon, Aug. 28, 2018 in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon, Aug. 28, 2018 in Washington. more

 

The Winchester, Massachusetts native received his commission from Princeton University in 1980 and later received Master's Degrees from Columbia University and the U.S. Naval War College.

His numerous overseas deployments include one tour in Iraq and three tours in Afghanistan – once as the Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Forces Afghanistan. He has also commanded the Army's 10th Mountain Division and served as a Military Assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Milley stepped into the role as Army Chief of Staff at a time when the U.S. was ending over a decade of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and re-aligning the military to focus more on near-peer competitors like China and Russia.

As chief, he oversaw the creation of the Army's Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) in Afghanistan, designed to reduce the strain on special forces. He also managed the establishment of Army Futures Command, which consolidated the Army's modernization process. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference about the new command, Milley said, "We're in the midst of a change in the very character of war."



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Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, of lying about his contacts with administration officials in 2018 and at least four other details related to his probe of Russian election meddling during the 2016 campaign.

In a heavily redacted court document filed Friday afternoon, Mueller and his team of prosecutors accused Manafort of lying about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate whom the special counsel has identified as a former Russian intelligence officer.

Manafort, according to the special counsel's team also lied about money laundering, a wire-transfer to a firm that was working for him, "information pertinent to another department of Justice investigation," and his contact with administration officials.

Kilimnik was indicted alongside Manafort in June. He has not submitted a plea.

Early last week Manafort’s cooperation agreement fell apart when prosecutors in the Washington D.C. case accused Manafort of breaching his plea agreement by lying during interviews after agreeing to “broad” cooperation with the special counsel’s probe. The special counsel’s office asked the judge to proceed with scheduling a sentencing date.

In court last week, U.S. Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C. gave prosecutors until Friday to submit a filing detailing the nature of Manafort’s alleged lies. Manafort’s defense team, which has disputed accusations that he lied to prosecutors, will have until Wednesday to tell the judge how they plan to respond to the filing.

In August, a Virginia jury found Manafort guilty on eight of 18 federal counts of tax and bank-fraud charged against him. The judge declared a mistrial on the remaining ten counts, though Manafort later admitted guilt to these counts as part of a plea agreement in the DC case.

In September, Manafort’s attorneys struck the plea agreement with the special counsel’s office in a Washington D.C. court to avoid a second trial there for crimes similar but separate to those leveled in Virginia.

As ABC News confirmed, Manafort’s legal team had been sharing information about his interactions with the special counsel with the president’s legal team – a story that was first reported by the New York Times.

This reignited speculation Manafort could be angling for a pardon from President Trump.

Trump last week told the New York Post that though a pardon for Manafort had never been discussed, he “wouldn’t take it off the table.”

The judge in Manafort’s DC case set a tentative sentencing date last Friday for Manafort on March 5, 2019.

This will come just under a month after Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced separately for tax and bank-fraud crimes in his Virginia case.

During the Virginia trial, prosecutors invoked his past work as a political consultant for pro-Russia elements in Ukraine and payments from political figures there in connection with the money laundering allegations he faced.

He maintained those overseas relationships both before and during his stint as then-candidate Trump's campaign chairman during the 2016 contest.

Manafort joined Trump's campaign in March 2016 and was elevated to the campaign adviser position in May of the same year. He departed the Trump campaign in August 2016 after reports appeared in the New York Times and Associated Press that suggested he had engaged in illegal lobbying activities in Ukraine.

Manafort last appeared in court for a scheduling conference in his Virginia case in mid-October, using a wheelchair to enter the courtroom.

He's waived his right to appear at hearings held since then. Manafort has been behind bars since the judge in his DC case revoked his bail in June, and is currently being held in solitary confinement.

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Photo by Justin Kase Conder for The Washington Post via Getty Images(BLADENBORO, N.C.) -- As questions continue to swirl amid allegations of election fraud in a critical North Carolina congressional race, the man at the center of the scandal, Leslie McCrae Dowless, is remaining mum for the most part.

Dowless declined to comment on the growing scandal when asked Friday by ABC News' Steve Osunsami.

"At this time I have no comment and you can contact my attorney," Dowless, who worked as a campaign consultant for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris during the 2018 election, told Osunsami outside of his home in Bladenboro, North Carolina when asked about his role in an alleged scheme to submit fraudulent absentee ballots.

When asked to respond to people who say he rigged the election, Dowless responded with a "no comment."



Dowless has denied any wrongdoing to the Charlotte Observer.

Harris broke his silence on the ongoing controversy on Friday, tweeting out a video statement denying any knowledge of wrongdoing and expressing openness to a new election if the fraud is significant enough.

"Although I was absolutely unaware of any wrongdoing, that will not prevent me from cooperating with this investigation," Harris said, "However if this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure all voters have confidence in the results."

The North Carolina Board of Elections confirmed Friday in a statement that Dowless is a "person of interest in connection with an alleged absentee ballot operation in the congressional district."

According to several news reports and sworn affidavits from North Carolina voters, Dowless is alleged to have led an operation wherein he and others working for him went door to door in two rural North Carolina counties collecting at times incomplete absentee ballots from voters and then submitting them to state election officials.

Under North Carolina state law, only a voter, voter's near relatives or a voter’s legal guardian is legally allowed to drop off an absentee ballot.

The investigation is being led by chief investigator Joan Fleming, who specialized in fraud investigations during her 26-year tenure as an FBI special agent.

The board is set to hold a public hearing on the allegations of election fraud on or before December 21st, but an exact date has not yet been announced.

The Wake County District Attorney's office has also confirmed to ABC News that they have launched an investigation into the alleged fraud.

Harris' Democratic opponent, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and solar energy entrepreneur Dan McCready, officially withdrew his concession to Harris on Thursday night, speaking exclusively with WSOC's Joe Bruno and tweeting out a video where he accused Harris of "bankrolling" the alleged wrongdoing and calling on him to "end his silence and tell us exactly what he knew, and when."

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Photo by Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Special counsel Robert Mueller's team interviewed White House chief of staff John Kelly about obstruction of justice as it relates to President Donald Trump and those close to him, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told ABC News.

As ABC News has previously reported Kelly was among members of the administration and those outside advisers close to the president who have been interviewed by the special counsel, according to sources over the course of the investigation.

Kelly's interview with the special counsel's team was first reported by CNN.

Kelly, who signed on as President Trump’s chief of staff in July of 2017, joins a long list of current and former White House officials to have interviewed with Mueller.

Since his appointment as special counsel, Mueller has met with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; former legal counsel Don McGahn; former communications director Hope Hicks; senior aide Stephen Miller; former press secretary Sean Spicer; and Kelly’s predecessor, former chief of staff Reince Priebus, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge.

The president recently responded in written testimony to a slew of questions posed by Mueller and his team of prosecutors. ABC News has previously reported that the questions, which were divided into five sections, focused mostly on whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the presidential campaign cycle, according to sources.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.

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Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) --In an address to a gathering of hundreds of law enforcement officials and prosecutors in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, President Trump predicted his pick for attorney general, William Barr, will face a smooth road to confirmation and receive "overwhelming bipartisan support."

"He demonstrated an unwavering adherence to the rule of law, which the people in this room like to hear," Trump told attendees of the National Safe Neighborhoods Project conference, speaking of Barr's previous tenure as attorney general during the George H.W. Bush administration. "There's no one more capable or more qualified for this role. He deserves overwhelming bipartisan support and I suspect he'll probably get it."

The president's remarks follow his announcement earlier Friday morning at the White House that he was tapping Barr to return to his position overseeing the Justice Department.

Barr's nomination comes amid controversy over Trump's appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general following the departure of Jeff Sessions. Trump had repeatedly expressed exasperation over his failure to reign in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Speaking to the conference as President Trump landed in Kansas City on board Air Force One, former attorney general John Ashcroft praised the choice of Barr but also lauded Sessions for reviving the Project Safe Neighborhoods program during his time as attorney general. The PSF program was first created under former President George W. Bush in 2001 at the start of Ashcroft's tenure.

Whitaker addressed the conference Thursday, but in line with his public comments since taking his position, he made no reference to criticisms leveled by Democratic lawmakers who have argued his appointment was illegal. He accompanied Trump on Air Force One Friday and delivered introductory remarks for the president at the conference, also praising Trump's selection of Barr.

"He's supremely qualified, highly respected and will continue to support the men and women in blue," Whitaker said. "I commend the president for this excellent choice."

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, at the meeting a day before, joked to the room that they should "let the president know that his favorite deputy attorney general was here," seeming to allude to the very public criticisms Trump has directed his way in recent weeks.

The president as recently as Friday morning tweeted an attack on Rosenstein, asking whether he was "totally conflicted" in originally overseeing the Mueller probe considering his role in drafting a memo that was used by the White House to justify Trump's firing of former FBI director James Comey.

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M-A-U/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Three years after a massive breach of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management which led to the theft of millions of records, the confidential personal information of federal employees remains at risk of being stolen, according to a new federal audit.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) “has made progress in implementing our recommendations for improving its security posture, but further actions are needed,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote in a report this month to Congress.

“As of September 20, 2018, the agency had implemented 51 (about 64 percent) of the 80 recommendations,” the GAO report said of the list of fixes suggested in the wake of the OPM hack.

Still, the OPM “had not provided any evidence, or provided insufficient evidence, to demonstrate implementation of the remaining recommendations,” the federal watchdog agency noted in its report.

In 2015, the OPM reported that the personal information of 22 million current and former federal employees was stolen.

Sensitive data such as names, birth dates, addresses and Social Security numbers of government employees, as well as those of their friends, families and contractors were stolen during the breach.

“If an individual underwent a background investigation through OPM in 2000 or afterwards, it is highly likely that the individual is impacted by this cyber breach,” the OPM reported after the 2015 breach -- which has been described as the largest-ever hack of federal employee data.

U.S. intelligence officials said in 2015 that China was the "leading suspect" behind the cyberattack.

At the time, Sen. James Lankford, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees government operations, openly questioned security procedures at OPM.

“This breach raises significant concerns as to the security of OPM’s information technology (IT) systems and the integrity of its data management.”

Lankford, R-Oklahoma, said he was also troubled that the intrusion was not the agency’s first.

“OPM’s systems were discovered to have been breached in March 2014.”

The Office of Personnel Management, which conducts background investigations of federal employees and decides who gets what type of security clearance, still has not completed more than a third of the GAO’s 80 data security recommendations, the watchdog agency reported.

“Until OPM implements these recommendations, its systems and information will be at increased risk of unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification, or disruption,” the report notes.

OPM spokesman Parker King declined to comment on the report, citing an ongoing lawsuit that stemmed from the 2015 intrusion.

Two federal employee unions -– American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and National Treasury Employees Union (NTEA) -– filed separate lawsuits against OPM, claiming the agency was negligent in allowing sensitive information of their members to be stolen.

“In 2015, the Office of Personnel Management exposed millions of current and former federal workers’ sensitive information, and they still have not properly accounted for or compensated the victims of this oversight,” AFGE president J. David Cox Sr. told ABC News in an email.

“Not only are they avoiding taking care of those whose private information was exposed, but now we’re finding out that they are still potentially exposing those workers and the thousands who have joined the federal workforce since,” Cox added.

NTEA president Tony Reardon also told ABC News in an email that "the OPM data breaches announced in 2015 are going to haunt former and current federal employees for the rest of their lives."

In the agency’s formal response to GAO’s auditors, OPM officials insisted that they have made progress.

“OPM is dedicated to continued implementations of the remaining recommendations, projecting implementation of five more recommendations during this final quarter” of the current fiscal year.

The bulk of the remaining fixes are scheduled to be in place by the end of next year, OPM officials told the auditors.

Among the changes that have yet to be made are five that were termed “priority” by the GAO. Those include eliminating security vulnerabilities and improving plans for securing government computer networks.

“It is the government’s responsibility to take every precaution to mitigate the risk of data breaches that threaten privacy and national security,” said Tara Vales, a spokeswoman for Rep. Michael Quigley, D-Illinois, the top Democrat on the House committee that oversees general government operations.

Of the remaining 29 recommendations made by GAO, OPM officials have previously said that the office would not put in place one -– specifically, the installation of a security tool on computer workstations used by government contractors.

OPM officials told GAO investigators that the agency has controls in place that accomplish the same thing. So far, OPM has not provided the GAO with any evidence to back up that claim, according to the new report.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.



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ABC(NEW YORK) -- Republican Congresswoman Mia Love spoke openly Friday about her election ouster, saying she was surprised she lost and was blindsided by President Donald Trump's demeaning comments about her in the days following the midterms.

"I thought we had a good working relationship," Love said of the president on ABC's The View. "I didn't think that I was just completely supposed to walk in lockstep -- that wasn't my job."

Love rebuked Trump late last month in her concession speech, describing his view of politics as a series of "no real relationships" and "convenient transactions," in her first comments since the president mocked her.

Trump had singled out Love and other GOP lawmakers who did not publicly embrace him on the campaign trail while at a press conference the day after the midterms.

"Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost," Trump said. "Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia."

Love briefly pulled ahead in the Utah race as votes continued to be counted after Trump's comments, but then fell behind for good. Congressman-elect Ben McAdams's victory in the state's fourth congressional district was one of dozens of seats Democrats flipped to retake the House majority.



Love on Friday also alleged that she felt “targeted by Democrats” because she is “a black, female Republican.” In her concession speech last month, she said the campaign was indicative of broader problems that politicians, particularly Republicans, have connecting with communities of color.

"It’s transactional, it’s not personal," she said. "We feel like politicians claim they know what’s best for us from a safe distance, yet they're never willing to take us home. Because Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats."

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